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KELLER’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
JANUARY 8, 2021
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. AT TROPICANA FIELD (“THUNDERDOME”)
AIRED ON FOX BROADCAST NETWORK
Commentators: Michael Cole, Corey Graves
Ring Announcers: Greg Hamilton
-Cole introduced the show and hyped the top title matches.
-As Roman Reigns made his way to the ring flanked by Paul Heyman and Jey Uso, the announcers hyped a Gauntlet Match featuring Rey Mysterio, Daniel Bryan, King Corbin, Sami Zayn, and Shinsuke Nakamura with the winner earning a Universal Title match against Reigns at the Royal Rumble. Cole explained the rules of the Gauntlet match.
(Keller’s Analysis: Seems like Rey is the logical pick unless they have something significantly different and better than Bryan in mind for Reigns’s opponent at WrestleMania.)
Loud “You suck!” chants were piped in and fans on the screens were chanting along. Reigns said he likes Kevin Owens. He said he’s a pain in his ass, but he respects someone as persistent as him. He compared him to a cockroach. He said he didn’t want anything bad to happen to him. He said he backed him into a wall, so he did what he had to do. He said he loves the whole roster. “That’s the thing about being the leader,” he said. “Being on top, you have to care about everybody here.” They piped in boos. He said he cares about their families and is putting food on their tables. He said KO doesn’t have that chance anymore. “People are trying to blame me, Paul,” he said. “People are pointing their finger at me saying I’m the bad guy.” He said the finger should be pointed at WWE official Adam Pearce. He said they should cut to the chase. “Adam, bring your ass out here,” he said.
Pearce timidly entered the ring. He asked, “Roman, what can I do for you?” Pearce’s eyes darted nervously around. Reigns said he has a nice video package for him to watch. The video showed clips of the Reigns-Owens match and some of the fallout that led to Pearce giving Owens the match against Jey Uso and the Reigns attack on Owens afterward. Pearce asked what he wants him to say about that. Reigns said he was done with Owens and wanted to move forward, but then KO went to Pearce. He said Pearce and him went way back as pals. He said you’d think someone he knew that long would care about his welfare. Reigns said he does his job, but what does he do to manage the talent and make the right decisions. “And you threw him right back into the shark tank.” He said now he’s not here and he can’t provide for his family. “You did that and you are the blame,” he said. He told Pearce he brought him back to redeem himself this week.
Reigns criticized Pearce booking a Gauntlet match rather than letting him pick his opponent. He angrily said he he’s carried the company for years and he apparently thinks he can’t decide for himself whom he should face. He asked if he’s going to put himself in the Gauntlet match. Pearce said that’d be a complete conflict of interest. Reigns said, “It’s starting to sound like you think I’m stupid.” Pearce said nobody said that. “Am I stupid to you?” Reigns asked. Pearce said he never said that. “What is this?” asked Pearce. Reigns asked if he is saying Vince McMahon is stupid. Pearce said he never said anything of the sort. Reigns said that means, by process of elimination, that he’s saying he is stupid. His tone went sinister as he said that means he doesn’t respect him or his family. He said there are consequences. He grabbed Pearce’s jacket lapels. Pearce asked him to stop and said he respects him. Heyman tried to calm him down as Jey smiled in the background.
Reigns let go and took a deep breath. After a pause, Reigns smiled and said, “My mistake.” He said maybe right now, he’s perfectly safe. Pearce looked at him trying to assess how threatened he should feel. Reigns left. Graves called it unsettling to watch.
(Keller’s Analysis: Reigns is quite simply one of the better heel acts of modern pro wrestling history. Heyman and Jey are a great support team. The way they play off of him really accentuates Reigns’s stature and tactics. Pearce was really, really good here too. You felt his sense of vulnerability and fear.) [c]
(1) BIG E vs. APOLLO CREWS – Intercontinental Title match
They came back live as Crews was already standing in the ring and Big E was entering the ring. (Odd to skip ring entrances and formal ring announcements for a title match.) Crews dropkicked Big E as soon as the bell rang and landed a big boot to the face and scored an early dramatic two count that Graves sold big as a possible finish. Big E came back quickly and splashed Crews on the edge of the ring apron. Crews made a comeback a minute later in the ring with three German suplexes for a two count. Graves said the careers of Crews and Big E have a lot of similarities. (Huh?) He said both have been accused of not having killer instinct.
Crews superplexed Big E off the top rope. He hooked his leg and pinned him. The ref counted to three, but it appeared both shoulders were down. Crews celebrated as if he won. They cut to a break. (Because what better time to cut to a break, right, if the coverage of Smackdown was supposed to look like coverage of a sport rather than all about holding ratings during breaks.) [c]
The ref explained what happened to Crews. He wasn’t happy. Big E offered a fist bump. Crews had some words for him and then slapped him. He wanted the match to restart right now. (Seems reasonably.) Big E handed the ref the belt and agreed to it. Big E exploded at Crews with a series of belly-to-bellys and his running splash. Cole said Big E is fired up. Crews slipped out of Big E’s arms and then kneed him as he charged. Crews quickly hit a top rope frog splash. Crews kicked Big E in the head and landed a spine buster followed by a standing moonsault for a near fall. Big E came back with a uranage followed by a Big Ending. Big E told Crews afterward not to mess with him or play with him like that.
WINNER: Big E in 10:00 (with a break mid-match).
(Keller’s Analysis: Great effort by the wrestlers to do what they could within a pretty tight timeframe. Big E shouldn’t have insisted the match restart rather than say he doesn’t make the rules. Obviously, he proved to have the power to restart the match, so he looked bad trying to avoid it at first. Crews seems most useful at this point as a heel.)
-They cut to Pearce on the phone telling someone he’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. Sonya Deville showed up. Pearce got of the phone and told her he’s glad she’s back, but he’s surprised she wanted the job. She said the last year has been crazy and she’s not proud of some things she’s done and said. She said it’s a new year and she wants to put the past behind her. She said she’s grateful for the opportunity to work under Pearce. She said he has so much responsibility, plus he’s putting himself in a match tonight. Pearce said he hasn’t had a match in six years, and he’s not convinced he could beat the referee, much less Reigns.
-The announcers hyped the gauntlet match
-A Raw commercial hyped Drew McIntyre vs. Randy Orton. [c]
-Backstage, Alyse Ashton interviewed Bianca Belair. Bayley interrupted the interview immediately and asked Belair how many wrestlers she eliminated last year. Bayley said she didn’t eliminate her. Belair said she wasn’t in the match. Bayley said this year she is in the match. Bayley said if Belair were to win, she’s squander it because she sucks. Belair made fun of Bayley no longer being champion.
(Keller’s Analysis: Belair can be technically right and she can stand opposite of a totally unlikable heel, but her delivery is so juvenile and cocky, she ends of being the least likable person in segments she’s in.)
-A sponsored recap aired of the Street Profits 2021 New Year’s Celebration. The Profits then made their ring entrance. [c]
-Cole and Graves congratulated Sasha Banks for being named “#1 Superstar of 2020” by Sports Illustrated.
-Carmella sat backstage with her assistant, Reginald. She commended Sasha on her hustle. She said, sure, Sasha was named the “Sports Illustrated Top Wrestler of 2020.” (Yes, she said “wrestler.”) She said to her, greatness comes more naturally. She said Sasha can work as hard as she wants, but she doesn’t have enough natural talent to make up for the gap.
(2) THE STREET PROFITS vs. ROBERT ROODE & DOLPH ZIGGLER – WWE Smackdown Tag Team Title match
Roode and Ziggler wore pink. The Profits wore Kermit green. Ford knocked Roode to the floor, then knocked Ziggler to the floor, then flip dove onto both of them. He sold a left knee injury afterward. Dawkins and the ref asked how he was doing as they cut to an early break. [c]
After the break, Dawkins tagged in. Ziggler and Roode took over on him for a few minutes and prevented him from tagging Ford. Ford continued to barely put any weight on his knee. Roode mocked him by wiggling his leg at him. Roode yanked Ford off the ring apron when Dawkins was near tagging him. Ford threw him into the ringside barricade and then let out a yell. He tagged in and went to work on Ziggler. Graves said adrenaline can get a man to do amazing things. His knee began giving out more, but he did hit Ziggler with a discus lariat. Ziggler kicked out at two. Ford tried to climb to the top rope. Roode grabbed at him. Ford kicked him off. Ziggler then gave him a face-plant off the top rope and scored a two count.
Ford valiantly fought off an attack by Roode and Ziggler for a several minutes, but eventually succumbed to a double-team Zig Zag. Cole called it a damn shame and said Ford’s effort was valiant.
WINNERS: Ziggler & Roode in 15:00 to capture the Smackdown Tag Team Titles.
-As Dawkins checked on Ford, Ziggler and Roode charged into the ring and knocked them down. They held up their newly won tag team title belts.
-Backstage, Deville asked Pearce what come next. He said he might grant the Profits a rematch. Heyman walked in and looked around, then shook Deville’s hand. He said it was an honor. She turned and left. Pearce told Heyman to save it. Heyman said he likes Pearce and he doesn’t want any hostility. He said he’s concerned for Pearce’s well-being. He said he holds him in the greatest respect and admiration. He tried to bond with Pearce over their journeys. He mentioned his past as “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce. He said he knows why he was picked for this job. He said he didn’t dream of this job, though. He said he wanted to be the champion in WWE. He said he pulled a few strings, at the request of Reigns, and Pearce is now in the gauntlet match. “You have an opportunity tonight to pursue the dream you’ve had since you were a little baby, and it’s courtesy of your Universal Champion, Roman Reigns.” He said personally and professionally he is so happy for and proud of him. He shook his hand and said it’s been a pleasure doing business with him.
-Cole and Graves reacted to that news. [c]
-Backstage, Riott Squad were chatting with each other when Billie Kaye walked up to them. She said it’s time they take the Riott Duo into a Riott Trio. They turned her down. Billie began sobbing. She said 2021 was supposed to be better, but it’s not. Billie said she can be a punk and be edgy and has been listening to Blink 182 lately. She said she has added being a mosh pitting expert to her resume. She handed the photo resume to Ruby Riott who confirmed it’s actually on her resume.
-Rey and Dominik walked out together to kick off the start of the Gauntlet match. Sami Zayn then walked onto the stage to his music. He had his camera crew present to film it. He protested being the no. 1 entrant in the gauntlet match, the one with the least statistical chance of winning. He said it’s another in a stream of coincidences that is part of a massive conspiracy targeting him. He said no one will listen to him, though. He said he had his own camera crew because they’re unbiased documentarians who will help uncover the conspiracy that cost him his IC Title. He said when it all comes to light, everyone will see is the rightful champion. “I am and will remain the Champion of the People.” He entered the ring and told Rey he will beat him and everyone else who comes out to the ring next “because Sami Zayn is undeniable.” (Copyright Bellas?)
(3) REY MYSTERIO vs. SAMI ZAYN – Gauntlet match
Rey dropkicked Sami against the ropes as the bell rang, hit a 619, landed a top rope splash, and got the three count.
WINNER: Mysterio in about 15 seconds.
Shinsuke Nakamura came out next. Cole said it’ll be a classic match. [c]
Nakamura dominated at the start for several minutes to the point he was strutting around. Graves said it’s been a while since they’ve seen him so confident. Rey made a comeback after several minutes and hit a 619. When he went for a splash, Nakamura lifted his knees and applied a cross armbreaker for a quick tapout win.
King Corbin ran out next and immediately threw Dominik into the ringside steps. He then threw Rey hard into the corner of the ring and then chokeslammed him. Cole said apparently Corbin is next. [c]
Corbin was in control against Nakamura as they returned from the ring, action in progress. Nakamura came back with a series of kicks. Graves touted Nakamura’s abilities. Corbin lifted and slammed Nakamura to break an armbar. He charged at Nakamura, but Nakamura caught him with a Kinshasa for the win. Cole talked about him like he is an emerging babyface star.
Daniel Bryan came out next, leading the ThunderDome in “Yes!” chants. [c]
Bryan was in control after the break, including diving through the ropes onto Nakamura at ringside. Bryan leaped off the top rope, but Nakamura kicked him out of mid-air. Then he tossed him over his head. Bryan countered a Kinshasa with an anklelock. Bryan continued on the attack including a near fall after a back suplex into a bridge. Nakamura ducked a roundkick and then took Bryan over with an armbar. He extended the arm, but Bryan spun out of it and went for an armbar himself. He transitioned into a Yes Lock next. Nakamura held on until he put his leg on the bottom rope to force a break.
Bryan climbed to the top rope and tried to take Nakamura down with a huracanrana. Nakamura blocked it and leaped off with a knee to Bryan’s head for a two count. They stood and ducked each other’s kicks, then Nakamura applied an armbar. Bryan leveraged his shoulders down for a two count. (The crowd sound machine couldn’t keep up with the ebb and flow of the logical pops during this action.) They stood and exchanged kicks again. Bryan pummeled Nakamura with kicks in the corner, then charged with a dropkick into the corner. Nakamura surprised Bryan with a Kinshasa for a sudden win. Nakamura sat up and had some friendly words for Bryan. Bryan stood and looked on disappointed, but then shook hands with him in a show of respect.
Reigns walked out onto the stage as his music played, accompanied by Heyman and Jey. Nakamura looked on. [c]
Jey got in Nakaura’s face, then gave him an elbow to the side of his head. Reigns joined in a beatdown. “Week after week, muggings continue by Reigns and his family!” exclaimed Cole. Pearce stood at ringside, hands on hips watching. Reigns gave Nakamura a Superman Punch. Jey then landed a top rope frog splash. Reigns smiled and dropped to ringside. He put his arm around Pearce and told him to get in the ring. He threw him into the ring. Pearce stood. Jey and Reigns surrounded him. Jey superkicked Pearce. He went down, with a stiff arm indicating he was out cold. Reigns looked around, then ordered Jey to put Pearce on top of Nakamura. The ref counted to three.
WINNER: Pearce to advance to the Royal Rumble title match against Reigns.
(Keller’s Analysis: Just a blast start to finish. Sami was splendid in his complaining with a predictable, but satisfying quick loss. Then it became the Shinsuke Nakamura Show, with an apparent renewed babyface push for him. No way they are aspiring to build him up as Reigns’s WrestleMania opponent, right? That’d be ballsy and Vince McMahon almost flaunting that wins and losses in the past don’t matter because he’ll just pivot and tell his audience this week this guy matters. They did the same thing these last few weeks with Roode & Ziggler and the last few months with Sheamus, all of whom were jobbed out before getting big pushes. Then Reigns was his usual stellar heel self. I loved having Pearce get knocked out and put on top of a KO’d Nakamura to set up a fun Rumble title match that’s all storyline and all about giving Reigns another chance to be a nasty person.)
FINAL THOUGHTS: Really good show start to finish. Even Billie Kaye and Riott Squad hit the right tone for that storyline.